|Court Rules Sex Abuse Lawsuit against Priest Can Go Forward
By George Pawlaczyk
March 14, 2008
BELLEVILLE — An appellate court has ruled that a 2003 lawsuit brought by a now 36-year-old St. Louis area firefighter, who alleges he was sexually abused in Belleville as a youth, can go forward despite the statute of limitations.
The firefighter, who lives in Illinois, was previously known in court papers as John Doe. However, at a news conference in St. Louis on Thursday, Christopher D. Amenn, of O'Fallon, appeared publicly with his wife.
"I'm glad there is finally going to be some accountability," Amenn said. "My reason on following up on this for so long is to protect kids like those who couldn't protect themselves back then."
In a 2-1 decision written by Justice Melissa Chapman of the 5th Appellate District in Mount Vernon, the court ruled that Amenn's lawsuit against "Playboy Priest" Kenneth Roberts can proceed in St. Clair County Circuit Court.
Roberts, known for his book "From Playboy to Priest," spoke in Belleville in 1984 and molested Amenn when the then 14-year-old youth asked Roberts about becoming a priest, according to the appellate decision. The dissenter was Justice James Donovan, a former judge in St. Clair County.
Roberts could not be reached.
The ruling states that Amenn was not aware that what Roberts allegedly did was wrong until 14 years later in 1998 when he was 28 and went to a hospital emergency room. The lawsuit, which names the Diocese of Belleville, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Dallas, was filed in 2003.
The decision involves applying a 2003 amendment to state law extending the statute of limitations in certain civil cases retroactively.
Chapman wrote that the amendment "evinces a clear legislative intent that the (2003 law) apply to all cases filed on or after its effective date, including those in which the allegations of abuse relate to events that preceded the amendment."
During a press conference outside the Chancery in Belleville, Dave Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the ruling "will allow more child sex abuse victims to expose their predators in court."
"This ruling is evidence of a growing national trend in which judges realize kids can't come forward as kids," he said, "that it takes time for victims to understand they they've been hurt, that the hurt is severe, the pain is oftentimes ongoing. Judges are gradually understanding this reality. And this is only happening because of the courage of people like Chris and others."
The ruling, which does not become final until March 28, also stated that Amenn alleged that the church covered up previous sexual abuse by Roberts in Missouri.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org and 239-2625.
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